In 2017, District of North Vancouver residents in single-family homes were delivered lockable garbage and organics carts, and no one predicted what challenges were ahead. Attached to each set of carts was an information package which included the Recycling, Organics and Garbage Guide and instructions on how to use the new carts and how residents could exchange their carts for a different size. Unfortunately, this information did not result in widespread bear-smart practices being adopted.
To start with, many residents assumed the carts were bear-proof, only to learn that bears continued to follow their noses to accessible locked carts containing odorous kitchen scraps. Due to the large size of the carts (which most people kept instead of exchanging theirs for smaller ones) and the carabiner locks, many residents chose to store their garbage and organics outside of their garage or secure shed. And many of the residents without garages kept their household waste in their carports without following the advice of the District of North Vancouver (District) and the North Shore Black Bear Society (Society) to freeze odorous foods scraps, especially meat and fish, until the morning of collection. Mistakenly, they believed the carabiner locks would protect the contents from bears. They were wrong. The end results were damaged carts, bears spending time too close to homes, and the death of a bear in April this year.
Another challenge the community faces is that many residents manage the organics carts like the yard waste bags that they used before the carts, and they are placing them at curbside the night before collection. Bo Ocampo, District Coordinator of Solid Waste, stresses that “people must never set their carts out the night before pick-up. The carts are not wildlife proof, they’re wildlife resistant, and having hundreds of them sitting out all night in warm weather simply creates too much of a temptation for the animals”. This includes the organics carts which are intended for a combination of yard trimmings and food scraps. “To limit the time they are at the curb and to minimize their potential to attract wildlife, the District collects organics carts in the morning, before garbage,” Ocampo adds.
The residents who place the garbage and/or organics carts at curbside before 5:30 am are contravening the District’s Solid Waste Removal Bylaw No. 7631. To correct this practise requires a great deal of time and energy. Society volunteers do nighttime patrols and submit addresses for Bylaw Officer Service follow-up when an education attempt fails to change this behaviour. Due to the extensiveness of early set out violations, the District Bylaw Service is “now strictly enforcing our Solid Waste Bylaw and issuing tickets as necessary to reduce the risk to the animals and change the human behaviour”, according to Ocampo. District staff is also exploring other ways they can raise awareness of residents about the storage and use of the carts and the Solid Waste Removal bylaw.
Ocampo summarized the District’s commitment with, “Nobody wants to see our bears killed because they found an easy but dangerous source of food in our garbage or organic waste. Here at the District we’re strongly committed to helping our residents reduce human-wildlife conflict through education and enforcement.”
The Society is committed to continue to work diligently with its educational outreach programs to increase bear-smart practices. But the bottom line is that residents have to accept their responsibilities to manage their wildlife attractants and use the carts as recommended, and help to prevent wildlife encounters – and unnecessary bear deaths.
Christine Miller is the Executive Director of the North Shore Black Bear Society